5:00AM Friday March 23, 2007
A Government attempt to fast-forward Green MP Sue Bradford's controversial smacking bill looks set to founder, with New Zealand First unlikely to support Parliament taking urgency to push it through.
Urgency is taken for important business and it is highly unusual for it to be taken for a private member's bill, let alone such a bill sponsored by another party's MP.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen approached Ms Bradford to gain her approval for the extraordinary measure, before talking with United Future leader Peter Dunne and New Zealand First deputy leader Peter Brown.
Opinions within each of those parties is divided on the bill, and it seems likely neither will support urgency being taken.
Mr Dunne supports the bill, but United Future's other two MPs oppose it. Last night he said the party would oppose urgency being taken as the bill did not need to be debated hurriedly.
Mr Brown said New Zealand First's caucus would vote on the suggestion next week. He would not comment further, but with two MPs for the bill and five opposed, it seems doubtful that the urgency motion will gain New Zealand First support.
Those 10 votes, plus the 51 from MPs already opposed to the bill, should see the urgency motion defeated.
Yesterday Dr Cullen would not confirm if the Government was considering the move.
The Maori Party, whose support for the bill is vital for it eventually passing, confirmed it had also been approached by Dr Cullen. Its caucus will discuss the issue next week.
The bill has the numbers to become law, but its passage has been stymied by delaying tactics by opponents. Debate on the committee stages of the bill, which will effectively outlaw smacking, began on Wednesday last week. It proceeded at glacial pace, thanks to swathes of amendments and its opponents taking every opportunity to speak against it.
The bill is due to return for debate next Wednesday, but at its current rate of progress a final vote to make it into law may not happen until May.
National said the urgency motion showed Labour was desperate to rush the bill through.
"This is a deeply cynical abuse of power as Labour tries to clear the decks of this controversial issue," National leader John Key said.
Opponents of the bill will march on Parliament next Wednesday.
The bill as it stands allows parents to use reasonable force to protect their child or others from harm, or to stop offensive or disruptive behaviour. However, it would not allow parents to use force for punishment.
Ms Bradford said: "Any sensible reading of the police guidelines on prosecution will show that police will exercise their discretion."